Covering events is an essential part of the workload for a film production company. Whether you’re a national-level company covering well-known events like Lollapalooza and Riot Fest, or you’re a small independent production company exclusively working in your local market, having the opportunity to shoot these events is a great stepping stone toward building relationships and vetting potential documentary opportunities.
But getting ready to cover an event isn’t as simple as showing up and shooting video. At Hurrdat Films, we know this feeling well, as we just wrapped our busiest summer of event coverage in the history of the company, covering three large events in a five-week period. To help other production companies get ready to cover live events, we’re sharing some tips we’ve garnered from our years in the business.
Get Passes & Parking Situated Ahead of Time
Event days–especially Day 1—will be hectic for everyone. If it’s possible, it’s worth a 30-minute car ride the day before the event to meet the promoters and pick up media and parking passes instead of dealing with the chaos on the day of. Remember, organizers have a billion things to do that day, and providing passes for media teams will typically be low on their list.
Taking one thing off of their plate may be appreciated. In the past, we’ve also found ourselves in situations where our first shot request is at 7am, the check-in tents don’t open until 8am, and security is on-site at 7am looking for credentials—and without them, we’re not getting in. Sometimes, getting passes early won’t be an option, but it’s worth the conversation to at least talk to the event organizers ahead of time to understand the parking and entry situation.
Build a Location Scout Day into Your Budget
The ability to scout a venue and understand where things are, where you will be, and ideal points of entry for your team can make day-of issues happen less frequently. Showing up to an event blind can leave you shellshocked the moment you arrive because it could mean you accidentally go to the wrong entrance and start the day off behind schedule.
Know the Power & WiFi Situation in Advance
While scouting, don’t be afraid to ask the event for what you need like better WiFi options and power supplies. Often, they’re guessing about the needs of media, so if you say nothing, you get nothing. In addition, they might not be inherently dialed into the different needs of different media.
A still photographer might be able to get through an entire day with one card and an extra battery, but if they are asking the video team to do same-day edits, you obviously have different needs, so communication is key.
Create a Command Center
If you’re running a large-scale multi-camera operation, having a place where you and every other crew member can meet up throughout the day is vital. As the supervising producer on the job, if we’re staging out of a hotel room, the first thing we do is build a workflow for equipment. We designate spots for:
- Full batteries
- Dead batteries
- Charging stations
- Media management (if doing it on the side)
- Camera support
- Clean media
- Full, locked media
We designate a spot for each of these items. Even if you’re scaled down to just a table, and stashing most of the gear underneath it, you can still use the principles designated here. Make sure your team knows where clean media and full batteries are, and what they’re supposed to do with a dead battery or a full card.
Pro Tip: If you’re “detail-oriented” (and hopefully if you’re a producer, you should be a little), Brother makes a great portable label maker for $40. It works with an app on your phone via Bluetooth. This can be handy if you and your crew are running around at a fast pace, to be able to look down and see a spot on the table marked CHARGED BATTERIES.
Ask for a Shot List, But Be Able to Work Without One
Every event organizer wants to get you a shot list, but much like with passes, the closer it gets to the event the more their plate fills up with 911s.
Being able to work without a shot list (at least partially) boils down to a common theme in film and video production: preparation combined with instincts. Be sure you have a lengthy conversation with the event in advance about their needs, goals, and expectations. If you must make decisions, what’s more value to them–shots of Dave Grohl performing or a busy promotional booth for their title sponsors?
Also, be sure you define the deliverables in that conversation. We’ve found ourselves doing everything from a same-day micro-documentary series for the event’s Twitter account to filming elements to use in a broadcast commercial for the following year’s event. Knowing how stuff is being used will influence everything from the subjects you shoot to camera selection, color settings, and post-production workflow.
There’s a 90% chance that a large part of what you’re producing is going to the event’s social media channels. Have good communication with them, talk about what they need and how they need it delivered to them easily, and look at them as an ally.
For our team at Hurrdat Films, we’re fortunate to be a division of a larger media company, so at the events we work, we’re usually paired with Hurrdat Marketing team members to provide additional social support. This makes communication and coverage smooth and seamless.
Make Allies, Not Enemies
Understand it takes dozens of moving parts to produce any sort of event, whether it’s a golf tournament to a music festival. Often, running around with our cameras makes us feel super important, but the reality is we’re just like any number of other groups—security, operations, vendors. We’re all people here trying to do our jobs.
With multi-day events, be cool to other people working in the trenches, especially security. From getting into the venue to getting things you might need like a golf cart for equipment, they can either make your life easier or harder. That goes for other media entities as well. Even if you’re the “official partner” of an event, don’t expect to be the only media there.
Feed Your Team
Keep your crew fed and, especially at outdoor events, keep everyone hydrated. Work the event to clearly set the expectations for food and water at the event. It’s not unreasonable to ask that food and (non-alcoholic) drink tickets are part of your agreement. Even then, we always still have a plan and usually cooler of waters (and Red Bull) accessible for people.
Always know your crew’s dietary needs, too. It’s 2021. Don’t make a crew member feel like a diva if they’re vegetarian, vegan, or have other dietary concerns. Know ahead of time what you can do to accommodate everyone, and plan accordingly.
Leave the Fandom at Home
Often, what appears to be the important shot of the moment might not be the most important shot to organizers. Even if the fan in you wants to go shoot the Foo Fighters on-stage, there might be something happening at a sponsor’s tent at that time that the event needs to be covered.
Take Viewers Somewhere They Can’t Go
It’s not lost on me that the camera on the iPhone in the pocket of the average concert-goer gets a better image than the Canon GL1s I started my career on 22 years ago. Social teams have all sorts of neat toys as well, from pocket Osmos to gimbals for the GoPro camera.
If you’re the A-Squad buzzing the event with a RED or Sony FX9s like us, try to think about taking the audience somewhere they otherwise can’t go. That can be both literal, but also figurative, meaning use the better equipment and your skills of manipulating light, the understanding of composition, and ultimately creativity to produce an image only you can get.
You can hear even more about what goes into covering an event from both the video and social media marketing sides in a conversation with SVP of Hurrdat Media Chris Gorman and Dan Napoli on the “I’ve Heard That” podcast from Hurrdat Media.
Dan Napoli is the Head of Creative & Post-Production for Hurrdat Films. He has over 20 years of experience in the video production and film industry as a writer, director, and editor with nearly two-dozen documentaries to his credit. He also co-hosts “Yellin’ In My Ear,” a podcast centered around ‘80s & ‘90s Gen X pop culture, and “Reel Life,” where he interviews fellow documentary filmmakers about how they took their latest project from the real-life event to the film reel. His two most recent films, Best Kids In Texas and 50 Summers, are currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video and Apple TV.